Preliminary study: Learners benefit when higher education institutions use uniform principles for describing competence – here are the next steps

A shared foundation of rules for describing competence is important if Finland wants to lead the way for flexible learning. A preliminary study by Digivisio has analysed the challenges of the current situation and listed the next steps for development.

It is not trivial how higher education institutions describe the competence produced by the studies they offer, for example in study guides and degree certificates. The right kind of description helps learners to select suitable courses, facilitates the accreditation of studies and is also useful for employers.

It could be argued that verbalising competence in a smart way plays a key role in promoting continuous learning – and also in building up the joint service for higher education institutions. For this reason, the Digivisio 2030 programme has produced a preliminary study to analyse the current state of the matter and put forward development proposals.

The preliminary study was carried out in June-November 2023. For the study, information was collected from higher education institutions with a survey, and the institutions also appointed curriculum coordinators to support the project. The finished report presents measures that would enable the next steps for the shared principles of describing competence.

Differences in concepts and vocabulary

Based on the survey, higher education institutions have already actively developed their competence-based approach. Instructions on the description of competence are included in materials such as degree regulations, curriculum work guidelines and material banks. However, the related classifications, concepts and vocabulary are not consistent yet.

The report shows that there are shortcomings in the shared principles for describing competence, especially between universities and universities of applied sciences. Different higher education institutions and fields may also have varying practices. There was also variation in whether competence descriptions made use of international classifications or classifications commonly used in the employment sector. There are few existing structures that could help harmonise the description of competence in higher education institutions.

How to solve these problems? Based on the survey, higher education institutions agree that they should use compatible competence descriptions and consistent keywords. Study attainment data should also be elaborated to make accreditation easier. This data, as well as other competence descriptions, should express the level of teaching. Harmonisation should also happen in different fields within higher education institutions.

A shared understanding is a benefit to learners and business

The preliminary study proposes that higher education institutions draw up shared principles for describing competence and learning outcomes and produce more elaborate attainment data. They could also consider how to promote consistency with international classifications. Clear operating models would be defined for joint development work.

A shared foundation of rules would create many benefits. On the one hand, learners could easily compare educational information in the service and recognise their own competence. On the other hand, businesses could better express their competence needs. A shared understanding of competence is also necessary for building up the European Education Area. And for higher education institutions, a shared foundation would be beneficial in cross-institutional studies and evaluations, for example.

Roadmap to outline the next steps

The team preparing the preliminary study have prepared a roadmap for the harmonisation of competence description data in higher education institutions. The recommendations for the Digivisio steering group are as follows:

  1. Cooperation between higher education institutions on the harmonisation of competence description data should continue so that Digivisio coordinates a partial implementation of the topic.
  2. The network of curriculum coordinators of higher education institutions should also continue its activities and convey the results of this further work to each higher education institution.
  3. A plan should be drawn up on how further work will relate to other parallel development processes. The Digivisio project office and the co-implementers should ensure that efforts such as the report on the VIRTA system and the development of micro-credentials are proceeding in the same direction.
  4. It should be determined what will be done as part of a partial implementation by Digivisio and what will be promoted in existing higher education networks.

In 2024, the Digivisio educational offering related to describing competence will be prepared in close cooperation with this further work. Higher education institutions formulating a shared foundation of rules will also lay the foundation for harmonising the vocabulary of competence with the labour market and international practices.

The preliminary study was carried out by Project Manager Antti Laitinen from the University of Jyväskylä and Senior Specialist Outi Wallin from Tampere University of Applied Sciences.

More info

Check out the summary of the feasibility study in Eduuni-wiki.